It is seldom acknowledged that Australia’s VET sector is now more than ever one part of a broader safety net catering for the needs of a large number of disadvantaged Australians. Although disadvantaged students are dependent on the sector to provide the skills, qualifications, networks and psycho-social resources they need, the sector struggles to respond effectively. Poor completion rates for ‘equity cohorts’ give rise to real concern. In this paper, we explore the experiences of young early school leavers undertaking vocational education to illuminate broader issues of equity and access. We argue that to overcome many of the sector’s shortcomings, policymakers and provider communities must first affirm equity and access as central to the sector’s core business. We see little recognition of this and, as a result, poor connectivity and integration of the VET sector with other community supports. There is a relatively weak commitment to ‘inclusion’, and a lack of understanding of the range of support needs of disadvantaged learners at key moments in their educational journeys. Our conclusion points to changes that might enable the VET sector to better respond to the needs of early school leavers and, indeed, all disadvantaged learners.